French Confusion On Meaning of Burqa, Niqab and Hijab

As the debate rages on in France over burqa, an outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women, Muslims believe the fuss has served to highlight one scary fact; that French people don’t know a burqa from a niqab and hijab. The furor was sparked in France since Communist MP Andre Gerin proposed a parliamentary probe into what he describes as the rising number of Muslims who wear burqa.

But the debate saw politicians, opponents and advocates of the burqa using interchanged terms such as burka and niqab, despite the fact they describe very different types of Islamic dress.

John R. Bowen, a professor of anthropology who has been asked to testify by the parliamentary commission, agrees that there is confusion in France over the issue of burqa.

Bowen does not think there will be a law banning the niqab. Nor does Yazid Sabeg, Mr. Sarkozy’s commissioner for diversity and equal opportunity, who said it would be unenforceable.

Muslims and Citizens: France’s Headscarf Controversy

By John R. Bowen Headscarves are back in the headlines in France this year. Now the scarves are collectively called le voile (the veil), suggesting a full facial covering, rather than, more accurately, foulards islamiques (Islamic scarves), the term used in past years. The stakes have been raised since 1989, when the scarves first sparked debate. In that year the Ayatollah Khomeni issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Algeria’s Islamist political movement coalesced, and the intifada was heating up. In France attention was focused on three middle school girls who were keeping their heads covered in class. Accused of attacking France’s principle of public secularism (la_cit_) by wearing signs of their religion, the girls were expelled. Their expulsion did not, however, keep France’s finest intellectuals from taking pens in hand to denounce the scarves and to urge schoolteachers not to give ground, lest they bring about a “Munich of the Republican School.”